Many thanks to Chris Pokorny from Dawgs By Nature for the Q&A.
1) Steelers fans are scared you know what about Joshua Cribbs. And rightfully so. He's owned the Steelers in recent memory. What has he done this year though? I could easily go check his stats, but instead, if you don't mind, let us know how he's being utilized and what kind of individual success he's had early on this year.
Pokorny: As a return man, Joshua Cribbs hasn't been able to do anything. That doesn't mean the Browns haven't had good starting field position -- it's not unusual for the Browns to start drives between the 30-35 yard line on kickoffs. However, Cribbs hasn't been table to take the ball beyond midfield. The primary reason for that is that teams are finding ways to make sure the ball doesn't get in his hands. One kicker had enough leg to drive the ball back for kickoffs all game long. Other kickers literally kick it high and short toward the sideline so the up-back has to take it. When Cribbs does get a rare opportunity, due to the small sample size, he hasn't been able to muster the same productivity he had last year.
Where Cribbs has improved this year is as a wide receiver. Truth be told, he's probably the team's best wideout right now. He's not a great route runner still, but he has does a very good job at catching the football and he now knows how to use his body to gain leverage on a defender when making a catch. He's still effective out of the Wildcat, but the head scratcher is that the Browns have rarely used him in that formation compared to the end of last season. Hopefully that changes since Colt McCoy is back there this week.
2) Where did Peyton Hillis come from? Do you think the Browns will remain committed to him and the running game against the Steelers, a team that's notoriously impossible to run against?
Pokorny: When the Browns went out of their way to sign two veteran quarterbacks this offseason (Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace), one thing popped into my mind: the team wanted a veteran quarterback to make smart passes here and there, while handing off to our running backs the majority of the game. You can imagine how surprised fans were, including me, when the Browns had Delhomme and Wallace throwing the ball 30+ times per game, and even against a defense like Baltimore, that team didn't stop. Throwing the football and maintaining a balance seems like the gameplan offensive coordinator Brian Daboll wants to go with, but a lot of Browns fans want more emphasis on the running game.
Against the Steelers, the Browns won't be afraid to run the football, considering how well they did against Baltimore and Cincinnati on the ground. With a rookie quarterback under center, I'm not so sure the "trust" factor will be there in terms of throwing the ball like it was with the veterans. Therefore, while I still estimate there to be too many passes thrown by McCoy, I'd expect a heavy dose of Peyton Hillis despite the Steelers' dominant run defense.
3) Talk to us about the offensive line. I thought the Browns were wise to build from the inside out with their line in recent years. Is it paying dividends? Are players healthy?
Pokorny: The Browns built inside out, but only toward the left side. Center Alex Mack, left guard Eric Steinbach, and left tackle Joe Thomas arguably form one of the best trios of linemen in the NFL. The right side is considered a weakness with veterans Floyd Womack and Tony Pashos, but at the same time it's not like that side is causing us to lose football games or anything. The Browns actually favor running the ball to the right side too. Cleveland did draft a right guard, Shawn Lauvao, in the third round. He had a chance to start, but suffered an injury in the preseason and hasn't played in a game yet.
4) On a scale of 1-10, how nervous are you about Colt McCoy likely making his NFL debut against the Steelers? By the same token, how excited are you that McCoy has the chance to earn future playing time given the other options at QB on the roster?
Pokorny: This is a tough question, because right now I am kind of indifferent on Colt McCoy making his debut against the Steelers. While it would be extremely gratifying after the game to be able to say that McCoy threw for a couple of touchdowns en route to taking down the Steelers in his first game, the odds of him having a flawless or mistake-free game aren't very good. While the media liked to bash our quarterback situation prior to this week, Seneca Wallace was actually doing a very efficient job under center. For the most part, he was making smart decisions and his mobility fit our offense.
So, between the letdown of not having a "proven" Wallace available against Pittsburgh and having to send a quarterback out there who has had limited reps with the first team offense, I'm not ready to get excited about McCoy being the team's future quarterback at this point. I'm more so wondering when Wallace is going to be healthy again.
5) What do you think it will take in the win column for Eric Mangini to keep his job beyond this year? Are players generally still buying in to him and his system? Or is there a sense of frustration building up early on in the season after the team dropped a couple of tough games.
Pokorny: Since the Browns have been competitive with a chance to win in the fourth quarter of every game this year, I think the win total can be relatively low, between 6-7 wins, for Mangini to keep his job. When you look at the way the Browns have played, Mangini clearly has the team focused and has a lot of the right players installed to compete for a division title in the near future. It could be as simple as installing a new quarterback next year (it makes me wonder how different the Browns would be if Sam Bradford was under center). Players are definitely buying into him and his system, and if they don't, they are literally shipped out (see Braylon Edwards, Jamal Lewis, and Jerome Harrison). I don't sense any level of frustration with the coaching staff building amongst the players; any frustration is just the team upset that they couldn't put a game away or avoid the costly turnover late.